Ms. Burk, a human resources worker, requested that a plexiglass screen be placed around her desk to separate her from others employee while meeting them. “It kind of looks like an aquarium in here,” she said in a recent interview at her office at the Springfield, Missouri, plant.
She could work from home but has decided she needs to be there in person to support line and warehouse workers. She implements and enforces social distancing at the factory — from the production lines to the break room to the HR department where she sits.
That job became more difficult when two people at the camp were diagnosed with Covid-19 last month. “I was just inundated with people coming in, you know, nervous and scared,” Ms Burk said.
Kraft Heinz alerted workers through an emergency call system set up primarily for severe weather. The factory was closed for a few days for deep cleaning at the end of March, and management stepped up preventive measures when it reopened.
After the reopening, a few sick people were tested for Covid-19. “These were people I had interacted with,” she said. “That was kind of a pivotal moment.” They ended up testing negative.
There was little time to slow down and catch a breath.
Food companies are trying to meet unprecedented demand for products like Oscar Mayer meat or Velveeta cheese. While a small number of the nearly 1,000 employees at the plant can work from home, most are required to be present.
“We need them here. We need them to make them feel safe while we’re here. Because we have to keep bringing this food out the door,” Ms. Burk said.
Ms Burk, 46, has printed out handwashing signs and put markings on the floors of the canteen and factory to keep people at a distance. She put up signs on the tables in the break room that read “don’t sit here, sit here” to encourage people to keep a distance of 6 feet.
A department slowed a production line to allow 6 feet apart between workers moving items back and forth by hand. They now take longer to go back and forth.
Ms Burk made sure every table in the cafeteria had hand sanitizer. She helped hire three temporary workers to clean doorknobs, tabletops, and other surfaces. Management hands out time clocks to discourage employees from gathering to clock in and out.
“It was honestly a really, really crazy time for the first few weeks,” she said. “Since then, I can’t say it’s gotten any less crazy.”
The health risks and long working hours were a burden on her family. Ms Burk’s wife, Amanda, who she has been with for nearly 24 years, lives at home with their four children, ages 6 to 17. “I have the easier job. But it’s a bit stressful,” Ms. Burk said.
The factory has conducted a health screening, asking workers a few questions before entering, and this week it began taking their temperatures.
Ms. Burk also had almost all chairs removed from the cafeteria so people could sit farther apart during lunch breaks. “People just moved chairs. So we thought, ‘No, we need to take it one step further,'” she said.
Kraft Heinz has also worked to get masks for all factory workers, but they have been in short supply. All factories will have them by Wednesday, a spokesman said.
Ms Burk said she saw company employees posting pictures of themselves working from home last month on Kraft Heinz’s internal social media platform, KetchApp. She took photos on the factory floor and posted them along with captions that included the hashtag “#WeGotYouAmerica.” It has caught on outside the factory.
“When I walked into the store and saw the panic that was going on there with people hoarding groceries and toilet paper, I wanted them to know,” she said. “There’s no need to buy all the mac and cheese on the shelf. We do it here.”